A former Panda Express worker in California has reportedly alleged that she and her co-workers were once forced to attend a seminar where she was compelled to strip down to her underwear and hug a similarly undressed colleague in front of fellow workers and strangers. According to the accuser, who recently filed a lawsuit against Panda Express, was told that she had to strip down as it was a "cult-like ritual."
The incident allegedly occurred at a "self-improvement" seminar in 2019 wherein her manager told her that it was required in order to be considered for promotion. According to a report in the Los Angeles Daily News, the Chinese fast-food chain said that they have launched an investigation into the allegations.
The 23-year-old former employee, who worked at the Santa Clarita location between 2016 and July 2019, has alleged in her lawsuit that she was told by the store manager that she needed to take a self-improvement seminar, which she and other employees understood they had to complete to be considered for promotion. However, it turned out to be something different.
The woman, whose name hasn't been revealed, attended the seminar, hosted by Alive Seminars, that took place in an East Los Angeles warehouse in July 2019 with 20 to 50 other workers, according to the outlet. She says that the seminar soon became a place of torture and "devolved into psychological abuse." Attendees were allegedly verbally berated, prohibited from using their cell phones, and kept isolated in a room with no clock and with doors and windows covered with black cloth, likened to "a site for off-the-books interrogation of terrorist suspects."
However, it didn't stop there. Next, she along with many of her colleagues was made to strip down in front of a room full of people. The undressing occurred during a bizarre "trust-building" exercise in which partially clad participants, who were allegedly "ogled" by seminar staff, took turns revealing their inner struggles until fellow attendees "believed" them, according to the suit.
The woman is now claiming unspecified damages for the humiliation, which she says was sexual harassment.
Photographer While Undressed
The lawsuit also mentions that the woman was allegedly forced to hug one man, who was also in his underwear, as he wept because he was not convincing enough during the exercise. The Alive Seminar workers allegedly then dimmed the lights and told the participants to keep their eyes closed as they imagined that a light from above was removing their negative energy and a hole in the ground was swallowing it.
Interestingly, one of the seminar workers was allegedly capturing all the moments including the victim in her underwear with his cell phone, the suit says. The woman finally fled the bizarre gathering, claiming that she had a family emergency and ended up quitting her job at panda Express because of the emotional distress caused by the getaway, she alleges.
Panda Restaurant Group, the parent company of Panda Express, reportedly said that it is taking the allegations "very seriously" and is conducting an investigation. Although Panda Express denied having any "ownership interest" or "control" over Alive Seminars, and refuted the claims that workers are required to participate in the seminars to earn promotions, the 20 to 50 employees who attended the seminar were required to provide their employee identification numbers and received workshop materials with the Panda Express logo, Oscar Ramirez, the employee's attorney told the Orange County Register.
Alive Seminars on the other hand told the outlet that its sessions are carried out with respect and dignity.